Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.
William Shakespeare's Othello retold as New Boy
Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.
The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds – Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant ‘girlfriend’ Mimi – Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.
Advance Galley Reviews
I have not yet read any of the other books in the Hogarth series but New Boy is a clever interpretation of Othello that does not require familiarity with the original. It is set in Washington D.C. in the 1970s, which may feel strange to regular readers of Chevalier, who typically immerses the reader deep in history, often in other countries or cultures. New Boy doesn't have the sweeping drama and complex characters that Chevalier is known for, but the characters are still likable. The plot is slow to develop but Chevalier uses racial relations in a school setting well to create conflict. 3/5 stars.
On an elementary school yard in Civil Rights-era white suburbia, Shakespeare's "Othello" plays out. Osei, an Ghanaian immigrant, prepares himself for yet another first day at an exclusively white school. He bonds instantly with Dee, their chemistry palpable to all. This causes a stir and Ian, school bully and sociopath, makes it his goal to punish them for their interracial friendship/romance by the end of the day.
While this story is well-written and well-conceived it is a difficult recommendation. As with all Shakespearean tragedies reality must be suspended to account for the lightning speed at which a series of life-altering events occur and the reader must prepare for the often one-dimensional characterization of the supporting cast. Told in five acts, the conceptualization of "Othello" as a playground drama is clever. But cleverness is difficult to appreciate outside an extensive knowledge of the play. Without the play to hold up the storyline I believe the tale would collapse on itself. I would highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, theater folk, and those indulgent of both. I suspect it will not stand up as well for those less familiar with the play; this is not a dig at the reader but rather an observation for an author who is writing for the Hogarth Shakespeare project. This is an important note to make for anyone planning to read the book, so forgive my slight divergence. Hogarth Shakespeare project is an excellent initiative in which stellar authors reinterpret Shakespeare's classics in novel form. This project is ideal for a classroom that is reading whichever Shakespeare play is being interpreted. However, it is necessary to clearly equate this novel to that project, rather than reading it as a stand alone. My Rating: 3/5
I read this book in an entire sitting, which I think is appropriate, given that the events of Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy take place over the course of one chaotic day. It is also appropriate that most of the crucial scenes in the book take place on a small stage, the playground. Kids can be cruel, anyone can tell you that, but Chevalier hauntingly captures the extent to which open space and lenient supervision can bring out the most vicious and spiteful sides of children. Yet they are also tender, sensitive, fierce, and brave. They are people—a fact that is often forgotten by many authors, but not this one.
The protagonist, eponymous new boy Osei, enters a world that is monitored and controlled by adults who seem to never realize just how much kids can observe and understand and internalize. When we overhear the ridiculous, outright offensive things that seemingly rational grownups say to each other, we come close to understanding the sheer volume of crap—to put it bluntly—that Osei, a young black boy in an all-white school, is forced to deal with. The world is against O, and what he looks like, and what he represents. He’s not just the new boy. He’s the black boy.
New Boy deals with racism in many ways. There are the overt snubs and the subtle insults played off as jokes. There are those who go overboard to prove how accepting they are of difference and there are those who are outright vocal about their discrimination. In fact, the former outnumber the latter. What this story does so well is exposing how much we struggle with biases and harmful assumptions, and how this struggle begins at a young age.
The book is narrated through the voices of several child witnesses to this crucial day. Their voices are simple, youthful, and honest. In contrast, Chevalier’s adult characters, understandably, take a backseat and feel sometimes like caricatures or plot devices. The plot often doubles back on itself as different narrators retell the same event, which leads the pace of the story to slow down at times.
In the end, I think it would be doing an injustice to the message of this story to simply say that I enjoyed it. I can’t simply enjoy a book that deals with such difficult (and timely) issues to the extent that New Boy does. I’m left feeling shocked and uncomfortable. I think that’s an okay place to be.
New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Shakespeare for the young adult crowd: Tracy Chevalier has given us a one-day reading of Othello, set in a middle school drowning in the 1970’s and its a page turner. The writing is simplified to the point you could distribute to middle schools across the country tomorrow and begin educating our youth immediately - lots of lessons contained within regarding bigotry, racism, feminism, politics and classism. (However, one might need to explain the 70’s to *kids today* before setting out.)
This novella feels like Chevalier wrote it in a week. The story itself takes place in a single day in a Washington DC, all-white public school.
Osei arrives, a Ghanian sixth-grader, transferring in from NYC. He is worldly-wise and has changed schools a number of times due to his father’s occupation as a diplomat. He has experienced various levels of racism already and is not phased by the scrutiny of his new teachers and classmates. What he cannot anticipate or prepare himself for is the blatant cruelty and manipulation by the school bully, Ian, a sociopath who targets Osei and uses others to bring down the entire hierarchy of the playground.
Middle school is a stretch for the retelling of Othello. While Chevalier’s playground politics were credible and reminiscent of school experiences everywhere, the mature themes were not realistically enacted. And I had a hard time imagining an all-white public school in DC just as I doubted the doorman in Osei’s former apartment building wouldn’t call the family a taxi whenever they needed one - an upper NYC neighborhood with a diplomat in the building who generously tips at Christmas is not going to have a racist for a doorman, at least not one who exposes himself on the job - doormen are notoriously professional.
In short, I found the story flawed but compelling.
Granted, if an author had bothered to do this back when I was in the 6th grade, I’d have probably read a lot more of the bard. Also, if teachers had been hip enough to teach Will’s literature in easy-access analogy form, I’d have paid more attention.
This was good, not great.
Playgrounds are fascinating studies as a place where familiar social ecosystems develop among children. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier follows the story of a boy's first day at a new school.
It's Osei's first day at a new school in Washington, D.C. Not only is he the new boy, he's also the only black child in the school. Dee, a teacher favorite, is partnered up with Osei, or more easily called O, to help get him up to speed with the classroom procedures and lessons. The children in this sixth grade class spend a fair amount of time before, during, and after school on their playground, where there are rules that seem to govern how people behave. With the emotions raging, O and Dee quickly become enamored with one another, to the annoyance of Ian. As Ian works to keep his surroundings working to his advantage, he schemes to undermine O and Dee's budding relationship, not caring about the repercussions.
Placing the emotionally charged Othello in a schoolyard setting makes a lot of sense given the tendency toward rather childish attitudes and antics presented in the original play. The deviousness of Ian's actions and the complicity of the children trying to fit in or survive relatively unscathed were well-depicted and elicited the universal feeling and experience of the play quite well. Setting the story in the 1970s helped to convey unease toward racial differences that were portrayed in the original. I found it a little difficult to believe that so much turmoil took place on just one day, as there was a fair amount of relatively elaborate scheming going on and events in Othello took a longer time to develop and fester, but in demonstrating with the quick and sometimes fleeting nature of children's emotions, it is still mildly believable.
Overall, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I was immediately hooked on this story. The way the characters were portrayed was amazing and felt pretty realistic. I liked that we learned about Osei's family and how he not only felt like an outsider at school, but also at home with his sister as well. The events that transpired that fateful day also felt very real and matched with the time period. My only problem with this book was the ending. I felt like the drama and suspense had built up and Ian's terrible actions were about to be revealed and then it all just came rushing out, then the book abruptly ended. I wish the ending had been drawn out just a little longer, rather than Mimi just summarizing what Ian had done and Osei falling from the jungle gym. Overall I'd rate this book as a 3 out of 5 stars.
Thanks for the advanced copy of "New Boy ",First to Read. Tracy Chevalier's spin on Shakespear's "Othello" is one of the better attempts at the indomitable task of updating a master storyteller Chevalier hits all the right notes and does not lose the drama, intrigue, berayl and passion albeit toned down to fit in a few days of middle school. All the characters ring true .Race in America is a tough topic to depict for many authors but Chevailer tells a very compelling story. The book is a worthwhile read.
Yeah this is a strong no for me. Blame it on my innocent childhood but I believe the story being transposed to that are just did not work.